hello, Munari

an appreciation.

I had never heard of you, but Design as Art kept popping up in my recommendations. So, I checked it out.

Apparently, I’m illiterate when it comes to design theory — Brain Pickings described your book as “one of the most important and influential design books ever published”[1]

My ignorance is easy to explain away. I studied painting in school. I studied design in my basement and learned on-the-job.

Munari, I’m middle-aged and I’m starting a design education guided by my own whims. Your words bring me joy. Your books is by turns cantankerous and wise:

With all these materials a good designer can make a chair that may be dismantled, a folding chair, a swivel chair, a fixed chair, a chair on castors, a chair that becomes a bed, a chair that one can raise of lower, a chair with a reclining back, a rocking chair, a chair for anyone anywhere at any time. In Relax, Delux, Rex, Tex, Mux; in velvet, velveteen, cotton, canvas, travertine; in nylon, orlon, maulon, moron. [2]

I confess I laughed out loud at this passage.

Your didacticism is refreshing:

A designer with a personal style, arrived at a priori, is a contradiction in terms. There is no such thing as a personal style in a designer’s work.

Design is a service as much as it is a conversation. Listening is the first task of the designer. Offering an appropriate aesthetic solution to a specific problem is the second task. Keeping the conversation going is the most important aspect of the job.

Munari’s Tetracone consisted of four conical elements painted with alternating tones that rotated at different rates, producing a continuous visual experience.

I somehow see a foreshadowing of generative art in your chapter on the Tetracone.

Munari, I want to know if your work intersected with the Bauhaus. I know you were associated with Futurism for a while and I’m glad you left them when they became known for embracing Fascism.

I enjoy the exercises you assign: mutilating a logo to see when it becomes unrecognizable, making objects out of simple materials like mylar, string, plastic panels, and forming a Möbius strip out of a piece of paper. The last time I thought of doing that was when reading a John Barth short story.

Speaking of writers, your sense of humor reminds me of Italo Calvino. Did you know each other? It seems like your Useless Machines would have delighted him.

Your writing reminded me of Barthes’ style in Mythologies. What analogs lie there? There is a brevity and a concision that is equally exciting and elusive. At times I read a chapter and when I get to the end I wonder if I’ve missed the point. At other times I feel like I’ve digested a diatribe against the frivolous rituals and mores of modern society (see Knives, Forks, and Spoons).

A while back, I wrote in my notebook: “All writing begins from a place of knowledge and ignorance.” There is a danger in writing about a subject you’ve only just begun to research.

I’m learning about design history and and design theory every day. I’m glad I stumbled upon your small book which is full of big ideas.

[1] Popova, Maria. “Bruno Munari on Design as a Bridge Between Art and Life.” Brain Pickings. Maria Popova, 22 Nov. 2012. Web. <http://www.brainpickings.org/2012/11/22/bruno-munari-design-as-art/>.

[2] Munari, Bruno, and Patrick Creagh. Design as Art. London: Penguin, 2008. Print.

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Digital warlock and all around mixed metaphor. Also, VP of Digital at Fifteen4.

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